It's two P.M. on Friday of All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. Outside the Century Plaza hotel, tricked-out Hummers and Escalades jostle for curb space like chrome hippos at a watering hole. Inside, media availability day is at its orgiastic climax. On one side of a cavernous ballroom, reporters crowd three deep around the tables of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, pressing forward as if stageside at a Springsteen concert, tape recorders held aloft. Elsewhere a shades-wearing Steve Francis boasts of the "serious bling" encircling his neck; Vince Carter peers up from his table at a firing squad of cameramen; and Yao Ming answers questions using a P.A. system, the better for the massing forces of Chinese scribes to hear him.
Amid the chaos, there is a pocket of serenity in the back of the room, where Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd, a first-time All-Star, is sitting patiently at his table, wearing a blue button-down shirt, jeans, white sneakers and—no doubt breaking a clause in the Players Association contract—not a single piece of jewelry. He is largely ignored by the press, who stampede from one shoe-endorsing star to another. Those who do come over ask Redd, among other things, whether he thinks he's the most obscure All-Star. (His answer, after a moment's thought: "I may be.") One foreign journalist sits down, studies Redd's name on the placard and then, as if suddenly realizing he has walked into the wrong movie theater, gets up and leaves without saying a word.
Faced with such overwhelming indifference, Redd could be forgiven had he sneaked a whiff under each arm. After all, as he would tell you if he were given to such self-promotion—which he is not—his is a pretty darn good story. All the elements are there: an underdog protagonist, a bunch of scrappy misfits (the spare-parts Bucks were 27-24 at the break) and a surprise plot twist (the player Redd was chosen over for the Eastern Conference squad was none other than everybody's favorite phenom, LeBron James). So why is it that Redd's name recognition hovers somewhere between small-town TV anchor and Green Party presidential candidate?
For starters, he plays in media-light Milwaukee. But that's O.K. by him, because he is most definitely not a red carpet kind of guy. The son of a pastor, he leads team Bible study and is madly in love with his girlfriend, who sings in the church choir and calls him "My Boo Bear." Unfailingly well-groomed (his father, James, taught him that "you'll never meet a good companion if you aren't clean and neat"), he's the kind of polite, unassuming guy who says thank you to security guards when they hold the locker room door for him. "He is one of the true gentlemen in this game," says teammate Desmond Mason.
In fact, the only place where Redd isn't bashful is on the court, specifically whichever half of it the Bucks are not defending. For it is there, anywhere within chucking distance of the basket, that the 6'6" guard does what he does best: shoot the ball.
And shoot it he does. From behind the three-point line, coming off screens, off the dribble, with a hand in his face. It doesn't matter. Splaying his legs, he snaps off lefty jumpers with what may be the quickest release in the league. "He'll stand out there and make 'em like Pop-a-Shots all night long," says Minnesota Timberwolves guard and former teammate Sam Cassell, who calls Redd "easily one of the best shooters in the league."
At week's end Redd was eighth in the league in scoring, at 21.9 points per game, was hitting nearly two three-pointers a game and, because he was taking what Bucks coach Terry Porter calls "quality shots," was shooting 44.1% from the field, a high number for a perimeter player. (By comparison, fellow All-Star guards Baron Davis, Allen Iverson and Paul Pierce were shooting 38.6%, 39.6% and 40.4%, respectively.) In addition to being an accurate shooter, Redd is also one of the stronger (and taller) two-guards in the league. Once by his man, he relies on a variety of leaners, floaters and pogo-stick pullups. Though defenses usually force him right (because he's a lefty), he says he prefers that because he believes he is a much stronger finisher going that way.
"The confidence just flows out of him," says Mason. "He gets that ball and he thinks he can score every time. Mike might miss five in a row, but he'll come back and make six straight."
Redd's confidence was on display on Sunday in the East's 136-132 loss. Though he was the last player to get in the game, he managed to hoist 12 shots in 15 minutes, hitting three three-pointers and scoring 13 points. On his first play as an All-Star, he missed a 17-foot jumper on a fade play called by East coach Rick Carlisle, who moments before had asked Redd whether he needed to get warmed up to shoot. (The answer, of course, was no.)
With 14 seconds left and the East down by three, Redd was on the floor as the second option on a play designed first to go to Tracy McGrady. When McGrady was covered, Jason Kidd flipped the ball to Redd on the right wing. Kevin Garnett and his garden-rake arms flew at him, but Redd still got off a three-pointer that bounced off the back iron. Afterward he stood at his locker in a white All-Star-embossed robe and shook his head ruefully as he relived the shot, first asking a reporter how close he thought it was to going in (very close, he was told). "I had to fade a bit, but I had a good look," Redd said. "It just didn't go down." What if he had hit the shot? He grinned like a man contemplating winning the lottery. "Oh man, I would have run straight out of the building."